Arab media is facing a major crisis as it is no longer considered a reliable source of political, economic and even cultural news. It has lost the trust of readers in the absence of professional guidelines and media laws.
Code of ethics and press laws are important for media to maintain its integrity and professionalism. Not only does it increase the media’s outreach and effectiveness, but it also shows that the newspapers respect and care for its readers.
A free press is the fourth estate of a country. But the Arab media is unable to fulfil that role in the absence of free and fair reporting. That is due to the poor access to information and the requisite freedom to write freely. So press in the region has moved away from their main goal, resulting in the loss of professionalism.
However, Arab media gives a great deal of attention to technological and technical aspects, which enhances the quality of production. If similar efforts were made to enforce professional guidelines and to remove the shackles of the press, the value of the content would be greatly enhanced.
The professional rules should include language and style, exclusivity and objectivity, while the move for a free press would mean easy access to information and the freedom to express without fear or favour.
The lack of professional regulations in the Arab press is one of the principal reasons for major mistakes. The Arabic print media is replete with such errors. It is true that the Arab press is part of the third-world press, and cannot compete with the advanced European and American press. But the Arab press should look back in history and learn from the experiences of the developed world, from the pressures and threats faced from totalitarian regimes at the time.
Journalists should be fully aware of their responsibilities and act judiciously. They must pay attention to what they write or broadcast since it can influence people, improve awareness and shape their opinions. It is part of the media’s social responsibility, one that tops the list.
Lack of the freedom of expression bedevils most Arabic language newspapers. It lowers the morale of journalists and dents their professional pride. It is the main reason for lethargy among journalists in the region and is reflected in the performance of the media in the region and the quality of its content.
In the absence of oversight and scrutiny from the media, financial and administrative corruption has thrived in state institutions depriving people of their services. This corruption hinders media from monitoring the performance of governments and state officials and denying access to information despite the legal guarantees provided in most constitutions, in explicit and clear terms.
The absence of a free press can lead to poor production, qualitative degradation and the obstruction of development projects, as well as wastage of public funds. Reports and news on issues affecting the community or the daily lives of people will not come to light. Letters from readers that help in monitoring the pulse of the people and understanding their problems will remain unpublished. All these will stifle the progress of nations and lead to myriad problems.
State institutions, notably parliaments, pay attention to issues raised in the media. It helps them serve and protect their people. That’s why a free press is one of the pillars of the country.
Arab countries, please take note.
Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education.